A report released today reveals that major retail companies are making slow but meaningful progress at improving the chemical safety of the products, food, and packaging they sell, but nearly half of those scored — including every restaurant chain evaluated — have failed to take any public measures to help eliminate toxic chemicals from the products they carry.
The third annual Who’s Minding the Store? A Report Card on Retailer Actions to Eliminate Toxic Chemicals evaluated and graded the chemical policies and practices of 40 of the largest North American retailers, including grocery and fast food chains, as part of Safer Chemicals Healthy Families’ Mind the Store campaign.
Four retailers received the highest grades for their work to protect customers from toxic products and packaging, setting the pace for the industry: Apple (A+), Target (A), Walmart (A-) and IKEA (A-). In 2018, Walgreens, Rite Aid, and Amazon were ranked “most improved” with all three companies announcing sweeping chemical safety policies over the past two months.
“The progress that some companies are making to protect consumers from toxic exposures proves that it’s possible,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “There really is no excuse for major businesses to be dragging their feet at this point.”
Mike Schade, Mind the Store Campaign Director for Safer Chemicals Healthy Families and report co-author said, “Companies can prevent harm and protect public health by taking common sense steps to phase out toxic chemicals in everyday products. Retailers have an important role to play – they have both the power and the moral responsibility to eliminate and safely replace toxic chemicals to ‘mind the store.’ They should stop letting chemical corporations put public health at risk.”
Nearly half of retailers evaluated for Who’s Minding the Store? received a grade of F for failing to announce policies or publicly report progress to assess, reduce or eliminate toxic chemicals in the products or packaging they sell. However, year-over-year results reveal that retail chains have improved their chemical safety efforts after receiving poor grades on the Retailer Report Card. 72 percent of the 29 retailers evaluated in both 2017 and 2018 improved their scores by taking measures such as establishing new chemical safety policies, banning chemicals of concern from private-label brands, and expanding their chemical bans to new products.
Chain restaurants were analyzed for the first time this year and significantly lagged behind other retailers in reducing chemical hazards. These companies have been slow to announce chemicals policies and to publicly address toxic chemicals, such as phthalates and PFAS, in packaging and other food contact materials. Six fast food chains were evaluated representing 10 brands, with all companies earning Fs: Burger King, Kentucky Fried Chicken, McDonald’s, Panera, Pizza Hut, Popeyes, Taco Bell, Tim Hortons, Starbucks, and Subway.
“The food we buy should nourish us, not expose us to toxic chemicals from packaging and processing,” warned Mike Belliveau, executive director of Environmental Health Strategy Center and co-author of the report. “Restaurant chains are serving up a recipe for poor health by failing to slash the use of toxic chemicals in food packaging and other food contact materials. Toxic industrial chemicals like phthalates and PFAS don’t belong in the food we eat. Consumers expect a lot more leadership from food retailers in getting toxic chemicals out of the food supply chain.”
Other retail sectors with poor performance include dollar stores (average grade of F), department stores (F), beauty shops (D-) and office supply stores (D-).
For a full list of the evaluated companies and their grades, and to contact companies to demand chemical safety improvements, visit RetailerReportCard.com.
“Learning and developmental disabilities now affect 1 in 6 children. Over a quarter of these disabilities are linked to toxic chemical exposures,” said Tracy Gregoire, Learning Disabilities Association of America’s Healthy Children Project Coordinator. “Prenatal and early childhood exposure to harmful chemicals in consumer products and food packaging can lead to life-long impacts and chronic health conditions. Major retailers have both the opportunity and the responsibility to become industry leaders by keeping toxic chemicals out of products and packaging to protect children’s minds and bodies.”
Jose Bravo, Coordinator of the Campaign for Healthier Solutions, said “Once again, dollar stores fall among the worst national retailers when it comes to protecting customers and our families from toxic chemicals–and none of them have done much to ease product safety concerns in over a year. People of color and the poor depend on these discount retail chains, and our families deserve safe and nontoxic products just as much as any other family. While dollar stores continue to lag behind other retailers on toxic chemical safety, we continue to worry that our children and vulnerable populations are getting more than our share of toxic chemical exposures.”
To evaluate retailers’ policies, Safer Chemicals Healthy Families, the Environmental Health Strategy Center, Campaign for Healthier Solutions, Getting Ready for Baby campaign, Environmental Defence (Canada), and Safer States collected and reviewed publicly available information about corporate safer chemicals programs, and shared draft findings with retailers to provide them an opportunity to review the conclusions, disclose additional information, and make new public commitments toward safer chemicals as of November 9, 2018. Companies selected for evaluation were among the top forty North American retailers by sales or commanded the largest market share in one of twelve major retail sectors. Full methodology details are available at RetailerReportCard.com.